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American Forces Press Service

Carter: Army to Apply Lessons Learned to New Challenges

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 – U.S. soldiers have succeeded brilliantly in facing new demands during the post-9/11 era, and have now reached another major transition point, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told an Army audience here today.

During a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, the deputy secretary said a “massive strategic transition is underway” in defense forces, and a look back over the last 11 years offers insight to where the Army is headed next.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, few organizations had to adapt as much as the Army, he noted, when “our country was called to fight enemies we did not fully understand.”

The Army responded as a strong wartime force that learned to build, govern, advise and assist, and to think strategically as well as tactically, he said.

The deputy secretary noted that even with the end of the troop surge to Afghanistan, that “almost 60,000 soldiers remain engaged in combat … out of 68,000 total [U.S.] service members there.”

Carter added that beyond Afghanistan, more than 15,000 soldiers are deployed around the world, from Kuwait to the Sinai to the Horn of Africa. Over 90,000 soldiers and civilians are forward stationed in nearly 160 countries, he said, and Army special operations forces make up 75 percent of U.S. Special Operations Command operators.

“That is our Army today. And our Army has learned and learned again in the past decade to conduct new missions to defeat adaptive enemies,” Carter said. “In the wars of this millennium our soldiers learned to conduct counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and security assistance force operations to protect civilian populations, become discriminately lethal, and build up our partners’ capacity.”

The Army of 2012 is powerful and adaptive across its ranks, the deputy secretary said.

“The junior officers and [noncommissioned officers] … became administrators and community liaison officers in addition to, of course, unequalled warriors,” he said. Meanwhile, he added, Army senior officers “couldn’t ask the world to stop so that they could think; they had to design and execute a new strategy on the fly, with the fighting going on around them.”

Those leaders ensured their troops learned to adapt and meet a wide range of new, highly demanding missions, he said.

“That transformation is one of the exceptional stories of our age,” Carter said, noting that what used to be known as “operations other than war” became the core Army mission set over that time.

Part of the Army’s success stems from its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, he said, which forged a stronger connection between intelligence and operations. Carter said that fusion is apparent in any Army company-level command post today, where an observer will see capabilities that, 15 years ago, were found only at division level or higher.

“Operators and analysts synthesize all-source intelligence to identify targets, understand conditions and meet U.S. interests,” he noted. “The bin Laden raid, while an excellent example, is just one example of that collaboration.”

The Army has performed exceptionally well, he said. “Those lessons learned, that new capability built, those leaders forged [and] that habit of adaptation comprise an enormous asset for this country.”

The world, the nation’s friends and enemies, and technology have not stood still while America and its coalition partners fought two wars, the deputy secretary noted. Now, he added, Army and defense leaders must look up, around and out “to what the world needs next.”

With $487 billion dollars trimmed from defense budgets over the next decade under the Budget Control Act, he said, military leaders must spend taxpayers’ dollars more wisely and “ensure every dollar is spent strategically.”

The department announced last winter a defense strategy that requires agile, lean forces that are “ready on a moment’s notice, and technologically advanced,” Carter said.

The Army will have a role in each of the new strategy’s tenets, he said.

“One tenet is to capture the lesson learned -- so hard-learned -- in the past decade, including leadership, counterinsurgency, integrating intelligence and operations, and above all, adaptability, and turn them to future challenges,” the deputy secretary said.

The Army will once again train to conduct a full range of operations and execute a full range of contingency plans, he said.

“They will do so through a flexible mix of armored, medium, light and airborne units which can be tailored and scaled for a full range of mission,” Carter said.

The Army will also play a key part on the strategy’s second tenet, he said, which involves a “broad political and military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, and continuing presence in the Middle East.”

The U.S. strategic goal for the Asia-Pacific is to ensure a stable, peaceful region such as the nation’s military presence has helped maintain since World War II, he said. In the decades since that conflict, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia have prospered, as China and India are doing now, Carter noted.

The Army will bolster its stabilizing role in the Asia-Pacific region by increasing regional troop rotations and exercise engagements over the coming years, he said. Noting that the Asia-Pacific boasts seven of the world’s 10 largest armies, Carter said the U.S. Army will continue to partner closely with land forces throughout the region.

“As one example, the United States worked closely with Australia in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Carter said. “Today, American and Australian senior and mid-level Army officers know each other well. And our cooperation is increasing across the globe -- for instance, Australian Maj. Gen. Rick Burns will join the staff of U.S. Army Pacific on Nov. 4th, as deputy commanding general for operations.”

The third tenet of the strategy involves “[spreading] the burden and responsibilities of security” by building partner nation military capacity around the world, Carter noted. The Army’s role will involve sustaining and increasing bilateral and multilateral training and theater security cooperation, he said.

“One of the lessons the Army learned from Iraq and Afghanistan is that soldiers need core regional skills,” the deputy secretary said. “So the Army is aligning its forces to different regions to build partner capacity more effectively.”

The realignment begins this year, he said, with the 1st Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade aligning to U.S. Africa Command. The Army will also rotate units into Europe and other regions to bolster alliances, including through the NATO response force, he said, while Army corps headquarters will align with combatant commanders to better facilitate planning and training.

“These are all good steps,” Carter said. “I urge the Army to continue to think creatively about how best to match its regional and cultural skills to requirements over the long term.”

The fourth tenet of the defense strategy is to safeguard the future, he said.

In hard times, he explained, it’s “very easy … to pull out the things that are most shallowly rooted. … And they’re the newest things, and they’re the last things that you should be taking out … because they’re your most recent, freshest, and best ideas.”

Networking, mobility, cyber, unmanned vehicles, space and special operations are examples of vital functions the Army needs to “keep being good at,” and the Pentagon will invest in those capabilities, the deputy secretary said.

Carter said the Army, along with the nation’s other military services, has arrived at a moment of significant change, with operations ended in Iraq and Afghanistan involvement winding down.

“The Army story from the last 11 years is a story of dynamic and historic leadership at senior and junior levels,” he said. “Soldiers faced immense strategic and tactical ambiguity; through incredible focus and determination, the Army learned new skills and succeeded.”

Historians will write of the bravery and brilliance soldiers have displayed since 2001, Carter said, and also of the service’s response to the demands of a new era.

“That’s where we are again, right now,” the deputy secretary said. “We face strategic choices about the kind of force we want to build.”

Army and defense leaders are planning for the future at a moment of opportunity, Carter said.

“The question is, what kind of Army do we want? The answer is, powerful and adaptive,” he said. “Not defensive, creative. The Army has a rich history from which to draw to make that adaptation, and I look forward to working on this next chapter.”

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